Six Midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy were among the first to participate in the pilot faculty-led program to the country of Cape Verde, a small set of ten islands off the western coast of Africa near Senegal.
The idea of the visit was created when the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, the Honorable José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva, visited USNA last fall and conveyed to the Superintendent his intention of increasing cooperation between his country’s Coast Guard and officer candidates with the United States Naval Academy. The midshipmen spent ten days immersing themselves in the vibrant culture that is Cabo Verde.
These included activities such as hiking in Porto Novo; meeting with the Prime Minister’s office, Ambassador and senior U.S. military officers of Cape Verde and Portugal; participating in a community service project (painting an elementary school); enjoying cachupa (the national dish); engaging with the militaries of Cape Verde and Portugal; and of course, watching soccer whenever possible.
The midshipmen spent plenty of time fulfilling their diplomatic duties. Upon arriving, the mids spent time with U.S. Ambassador, the Honorable Mr. Heflin, discussing topics such as the history and current politics of Cape Verde. This was followed by lunch with Lt. Cdr. Kane, the Embassy’s first Naval Officer assigned to conduct security cooperation, where they discussed the current state of Cape Verde’s military. Later in the trip, more time was spent with other political and military leaders of Cape Verde in order to get an even better understanding of the military and educational values of country matters.
Over the final three days in Mindelo, the midshipmen got an in-depth look at the lives of local Cape Verdeans through a trip to a local orphanage and involvement in painting of a local school. This particular school enrolls 400 students per year and had not been renovated since the 1980s. With the guidance of a local volunteer organizer, the midshipmen joined a group of twenty local volunteers to repaint the school. Women around the neighborhood made huge pots of stew for lunch and the midshipmen made connections with the volunteers to learn about their lives. Later, the midshipmen spent an afternoon at a local orphanage where about a dozen kids live and go to school. They played chess and card games, learned magic tricks, and played lots of soccer with them. Despite the language barrier, they found that through similar interests they could connect and share lots of laughs.
From Cape Verde, the group traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, where they visited a foreign counterpart naval academy for the first time, the Portuguese Naval School. During this visit, they were able to compare and contrast how an important ally develops their future officers and were impressed with the professionalism and motivation of their counterpart students. The midshipmen also spent considerable time with the Cape Verde Head of the Coast Guard, who was one of the first Portuguese Naval Academy graduates for his country.
Photos and story courtesy of the United States Naval Academy